3 Reasons You Should (Or Shouldn’t) Become a Consultant

(By Mike Raftery)

So we’re taking a bit of a different tone with the blog this week. Instead of technical advice or shared best practices, I wanted to shed a bit of light on why I’m here in the first place. Consultants have a bad rap, and rightfully so. There are a lot of bad consultants out there. However after working for large corporations for over 10 years, I decided to change colors and join the consulting ranks. Why would I want to join such a club?

1. I Like being a do-er more than a manager – I will preface this by saying I really enjoy being a people manager. It is just really time consuming. I remember coming in Monday mornings and seeing a calendar that was already 80% full. While I am fully aware that the tasks involved with managing people: 1:1′s, status updates, status meetings and staff meetings are a necessary evil of a smoothly running organization, I always felt like I was spending more time informing others about what I was doing rather than actually doing it.

Some people do not mind those managerial tasks, however I was not one of them. While I enjoyed working directly with my team, I always had a soft spot for the small windows of time that I actually did get to work directly on the projects I was overseeing. As I evaluated my prospective career progression it became painfully aware that these windows of time would get smaller and smaller and eventually non-existent all together. At this point in my life I just did not want to give up the satisfaction that comes with getting hands on with a solution and building something you can be proud of. In another century, I probably would have been a craftsman of some sort, but in the 21st century I guess that makes me a consultant. It’s a shame since the title “blacksmith” just seems so much cooler than whatever I have come up with to call myself.

2. Personal freedom – This was one of the scariest parts about the transition, but also as I have come to find, the most rewarding. What I now know is that I have entered the realm of small business owner. And I get everything good and bad that comes with it. I am up at odd hours filling out obscure government forms. There are invoices, bill rates, contracts, lawyers and accountants that I had never needed to deal with before. So with the new tasks that you inherit come new opportunities and experiences.

Yes, I’m aware that’s a painful cliché but it is also the truth. Every project is something new, whether that be a new industry, new technology, or just new and interesting people. There is also opportunity to set your own direction. In a company I usually found myself fighting for the ability to do something new. In consulting, someone else has already had that fight, and you usually just need to find the right opportunity to make it happen. I love learning, and this is the one element that pushed me into switching career paths. The opportunity to make your own path and direct your own career development was more important to me than the stability of a full time job.

3. Direct and real accountability – Speaking of full time jobs, this is most definitely the biggest difference. In consulting, specifically IT consulting, you have nothing more than your name and your reputation. We have no assets like a factory or even a small business like a coffee shop with a real storefront and actual equipment. It is truly just your past accomplishments and personal accountability. The upside is that it allows for you to go as far as your efforts, drive and vision can take you. The downside is that there is no backstop if something goes wrong. You really are out there on your own working without a net. It’s exciting, thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. At the end of the day, you have a very clear picture of where you stand.

The other part that comes with accountability is the constant search you have for more work. You always need to be looking out for the next role. And that fear is a fairly good motivator. The effort you put into building a network, maintaining contacts, building a social network is a must, not a nice-to-have. What it has taught me is not to fear changing careers in the future. If and when I go back to a full time corporate job in the future it will be without the fear of losing that job due to reorganization, office closures or changing priorities. Having relied on purely yourself for your career progression, there is a freedom knowing that you can do it in the future.

As a disclaimer, I do not think this career path is for everyone. It has to be the right fit personally, for not just yourself but your family. A second disclaimer is that all work has its pro’s and con’s. I do not think one career path is any better or worse than another. It is a personal choice for everyone which career path they choose and I do not pass judgment on any decision anyone makes for their own career. However you have to enjoy what you do in order to make the time you spend working rewarding. Hopefully this just helps shed a bit of light about where I am in my career path and why it is a good fit for me personally. Everyone should be able to write a list like this for their own job, or maybe it’s not the right fit.

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